How practical is raise dead?

If you’ve played D&D for any length of time, you’ve probably been there. Something goes wrong, a few dice rolls go awry, and then, all of a sudden, somebody’s character is dead. Not unconscious: dead.

Now what?

I’ve written before about death in D&D. In my opinion, death should matter. It shouldn’t be routine. In fact, I’d go so far to say that ‘routine death’ is one of the reasons I can’t get on board with OSR games, where life is cheap and you’re only ever a few rolls away from a new character. Why care about a character if they’re completely replaceable? But I digress.

In this article, I want to think about the immediate next steps when a character dies in 5e. How easy is it to get resurrected? How expensive? How viable? There’s a summary at the end if you want to skip to that point.

For the purposes of this article, I’m not going to think about revivify, since it’s essentially an insurance policy: you either have it prepared or you don’t. The title refers to raise dead, but I’m also going to consider resurrection and true resurrection. For completeness, let’s consider each spell in turn.

Resurrection options

Raise dead is a 5th-level necromancy spell available to bards and clerics of 9th level or higher, and paladins of 17th level or higher. It is also available to divine soul sorcerers of 9th level or higher and alchemist artificers of 17th level or higher. It takes an hour to cast, requires a diamond worth at least 500 gp (more on this later), and returns the creature to life with one hit point—with a few provisos.

  1. The spell does not remove magical diseases, curses, or similar effects.
  2. The spell can’t return an undead creature to life.
  3. It doesn’t restore missing body parts, so if a creature is lacking body parts needed for life—its head, for instance—the spell fails.
  4. You can only return a dead creature to life if it has been dead for no more than ten days, and the creature’s soul must be ‘willing and at liberty’ to rejoin the body. (Update: as Nick Hartley points out, gentle repose gets round this restriction very readily, although it is a 2nd-level spell.)
  5. Finally, creatures returned to life with raise dead take a −4 penalty to all attack rolls, saving throws, and ability checks. The penalty is reduced by 1 every time the target finishes a long rest, until it disappears—so, for most adventurers, four days later.

How are resurrection and true resurrection different?

Resurrection is a 7th-level necromancy spell available to bards, clerics, and divine soul sorcerers of 13th level or higher. It requires a diamond worth 1,000 gp and can return a creature to life so long as it has been dead for no more than a century (although casting this spell to restore life to a creature that has been dead for one year or longer taxes you greatly—see the spell description). Curiously, resurrection and true resurrection explicitly don’t work on creatures who died of old age; there’s nothing to say the same is true of raise dead. Unlike raise dead, resurrection can also close mortal wounds and restore missing body parts, although this does not appear to include victims of the disintegrate spell.

True resurrection, finally, is a 9th-level spell. Weirdly, bards can’t cast it, but druids can, and so can divine soul sorcerers (and, obviously, clerics). True resurrection works even on creatures who have been dead for 200 years so long as they didn’t die of old age—Abraham Lincoln, for example—and can even restore undead creatures to their non-undead form (again, ‘if the creature’s soul is free and willing’). The spell can even provide a new body if the original no longer exists, which is presumably why it works on disintegrate victims. It is also, however, considerably more expensive, requiring diamonds worth 25,000 gp to cast.

(A slight tangent: why diamonds? I did a bit of reading about this, and frankly, I’ve no idea. If someone knows, please share. Or come up with your own lore! In my world, it takes enormous strength and focus to redirect a soul’s path after death, and diamonds are customarily used to channel this magical strength because they are the strongest material in the world.)


Back to our scenario. A character has died, and the party wants to bring them back. Cue four key questions:

  1. Which spell is required to bring them back?
  2. Is anyone in the party able to cast the spell themselves?
  3. If not: how far away is someone who can? And how much are they charging?
  4. Either way: would the party have the material component (diamonds)? Would they be able to afford them?

Now, before we go on, it’s worth stating: it’s your world, so run it how you want to. If a character dies and you want to handwave all this, that’s entirely your prerogative. Conversely, if you want to say ‘zero hp = DEAD, roll a new character,’ have fun. Just make sure the players know where you stand.

Most of the time, raise dead has you covered. The only exceptions are characters who have been dead for more than ten days and characters who are missing vital organs, in which case you’re going to need resurrection. If they’re mising a body, too, then only true resurrection will suffice.

Unless your characters has revivify prepared, are 9th level or higher, or they have a spell scroll or similar magic item, the adventurers will have to find simeone to cast raise dead. This is interesting given that most of the published adventures cap out around 10th or 11th level. So, next question: how far do you need to travel to find someone who can cast raise dead? And how much will it cost you?

5e doesn’t give much advice on this—but previous editions did. 3rd edition had a fully fleshed-out system for generating settlements which is still pretty applicable today. I did the maths and worked out what the highest available spell level would be in a given community: the minimum, the maximum, and the mean average (‘typical’). See below.

Community sizePopulationMinimumTypicalMaximum
ThorpFewer than 211st1st2nd
Small town201‐2,0001st2nd3rd
Large town2,001–5,0002nd4th5th
Small city5,001–10,0004th5th6th
Large city10,001–25,0005th7th8th
MetropolisMore than 25,0007th9th9th

(Obviously these rules are 20+ years old, but they feel about right to me.)

Looking at this table, we can see that you might find someone who can cast raise dead in a large town—it’s a 5th-level spell—but it’s probably going to be a small city or larger, and even then, it’s not a given. A large city or metropolis should have a caster of 5th-level spells, but still might not have anyone who can cast resurrection, a 7th-level spell. And true resurrection? You will need to head to a metropolis, and even then there’s a chance you won’t find someone who can cast it.Looking at this table, we can see that you might find someone who can cast raise dead in a large town—it’s a 5th-level spell—but it’s probably going to be a small city or larger, and even then, it’s not a given. A large city or metropolis should have a caster of 5th-level spells, but still might not have anyone who can cast resurrection, a 7th-level spell. And true resurrection? You will need to head to a metropolis, and even then there’s a chance you won’t find someone who can cast it.

If that doesn’t sound too bad, consider how few cities there are in a typical fantasy kingdom. Phandalin, now an iconic starting location, is a ‘small’ town; you won’t find anyone there who can cast raise dead. The nearest city, Neverwinter, is a few days’ travel through dangerous frontier lands. And if you end up needing true resurrection, how many cities in the Sword Coast North have a caster of 9th-level spells? Not many. I would suggest Waterdeep, Baldur’s Gate, and Silverymoon—and their services are probably in high demand as a result.

(As a side note, it’s worth noting that a few other creatures are able to cast raise dead. In the 2014 Monster Manual, there are angels: devas and planetars can both cast raise dead, and solars can cast resurrection. Outside the core rules, we’ve also got Lulu the hollyphant in Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus, radiant idols in Eberron: Rising from the Last War, and deathpact angels in Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica. But that’s it. As far as I can tell, not a single official creature in 5e can cast true resurrection. If I’m wrong, let me know in the comments below.)

How much will it cost you? Again, 5e doesn’t give us much advice. But we have a few indicators. We know that a 5th-level spell scroll is a ‘rare’ magic item and worth somewhere between 500 and 5,000 gp, so a single casting of the spell is probably within this ball park. Level Up 5th Edition (which, by the way, is great) gets more specific and lists a price of 1,250 gp. A 7th-level scroll (resurrection) is 8,000 gp and a 9th-level scroll (true resurrection) is 55,000 gp. And that doesn’t include the cost of the diamonds, or take into account whether the spellcaster even wants to bring the adventurer back to life. (Incidentally, the material component for resurrection in Level Up 5e is 2,500 gp: quite a bit more than vanilla 5e.)

SpellScroll costComponent costTotal cost
Raise Dead1,250 gp500 gp1,750 gp
Resurrection8,000 gp1,000 gp9,000 gp
True Resurrection55,000 gp25,000 gp80,000 gp

Would an adventuring party have the requisite cash to hand? I’ve done the maths on this. If you use the loot tables in the Dungeon Master’s Guide, a character will be unlikely to afford a 5th-level spell scroll before 5th level, even if the whole party clubs together. They probably won’t be able to afford true resurrection at the very end of Tier 2 (10th level), and that’s assuming the whole party has barely spent a penny since day one. (And anyway, do you know how heavy 55,000 gp is? About half a ton!)

Finally, let’s think about those diamonds for a moment. According to the DMG, They don’t start appearing as random loot until Tier 4. So where can you buy them? Again, the settlement rules from 3rd edition give us a rough idea. A hamlet of 50 people is probably not going to have a diamond worth 5,000 gp. According to the 3rd edition table, you might be able to find the 300 gp of diamonds for revivify in a small town like Phandalin—ditto the 500 gp of diamonds for raise dead—but for a typical 5,000-gp diamond, you need to head to small city. Unless, of course, you handwave all this, as many DMs do.


Ultimately, then, how easy is it to bring someone back from the dead in 5e? Here are my conclusions.

  1. Unless you are 4th level or lower, revivify is the cheapest and easiest option. And if you’re 4th level or lower . . . you probably can’t afford resurrection in any form. RIP.
  2. If revivify is not available, your best bet is raise dead, unless you’ve left it a bit long or the body is lacking key body parts (or even, in the case of disintegrate, a body).
  3. Raise dead probably won’t be available outside small cities. For resurrection, you’ll need a large city, and for true resurrection, a metropolis.
  4. Resurrection magic is expensive. Raise dead and resurrection are probably too costly for characters in Tier 1, and true resurrection is probably beyond the means of characters in Tier 2.

How do you handle resurrection in your games? Share your thoughts I the comments below.

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